THE UNSKIPPABLES #2 - Tinashe, Liam Benzvi, Sonny & The Sunsets, Mega Bog, MS. LAURYN HILL??
Scroll to the end for a proto-ABBA ode to Sacramento
Hello! Welcome to the Unskippables, my weekly selects of the five songs you should hear this week.
The Killers (not on the list below) released a surprise new album today as well. Of all the bands of the early 2000’s indie/garage/dance-punk boom, they’re the ones that continually surprise me with their status as a beloved legacy act. Perhaps in the end they were never merely human, only dancer.
Tinashe - SHY GUY
To be clear - this isn’t the banger on Tinashe’s new record 333: that song would be “Undo (Back To My Heart),” which does all the things you want a big radio banger to do.
“SHY GUY” was the first song on the album that made me stop in my tracks - one minute and six seconds of Tinashe over a drum-and-bass shuffle that points to a casual mix of genres moving at lightspeed. It’s almost a throwaway - more than a sketch than a song - but the fact that the small tracks of 333 are this evocative show how evolved and ambitious Tinashe’s new album manages to be. Bounce both tracks, your Friday will be better for it.
Sonny & The Sunsets - The Lonely Men
I lived in San Francisco during the first wave of the “garage boom” that produced Ty Segall, the Fresh & Onlys, and the most popular iteration of Thee Oh Sees. I was way too into dance-punk and blog house at the time to appreciate what was happening, but even then I knew about Sonny & The Sunsets, whose troubadour impulses always kept him at the margins of the SF rock “moment.” He always had more in common with Jonathan Richman than the Sonics - and his latest album, inspired by reading western paperbacks, continues his man-and-a-guitar exploration of off-kilter pop.
To me, this is the sound of long, isolated summer drives crossing state borders on the West Coast, a man alone in a room wondering aloud at the bleakness of the west.
Liam Benzvi - Hypno
The first time I saw Liam play was in 2017 to a small crowd opening a DIY show to a handful of Bushwick denizens. Even just with a small crowd, a keyboard and a sampler, his writing felt timeless and reaching for something huge just on the periphery, his singing assured and crisp. Liam’s effortless sense of melody continues to shine on his new single for Terrible Records, which underpins his glassy verses with a Stone Roses-inflected baggy guitar-and-drum shuffle.
Nas feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill - Nobody
Nas’ second full-album collaboration with producer Hit-Boy, Kings Disease II, bounces from classic “king of NY” Nas to more radio-friendly fare (“YKTV”), with only an occasional dip into conspiracy theory or mogul posturing. This track stands out above the rest of the album entirely thanks to a searing guest verse from Ms. Lauryn Hill. Like Andre 3000 guest verses, hearing her hop on a track is a both thrilling and slightly heartbreaking, thanks to her sharp flow and the realization of how rarely we get to hear it.
Mega Bog - Station To Station
This song was a surprise discovery thanks to some Spotify autoplay serendipity, and I was immediately struck by Erin Birgy’s resonant voice and the Broadcast-esque prickly paranoia of this track. From Mega Bog’s July 23 album Life, and Another, “Station To Station” pivots quickly from Berlin-esque hats and synth brass to a melancholy opening verse - “Someday I hope to forget what I was for / Let it dissolve like an artichoke being gutted around its spine.” A perfect cold blast of air for the final heatwaves of August.
Middle of the Road - Sacramento
This band is from the Netherlands, but even if I didn’t know that, I’d still be pretty sure they’ve never actually been to Sacramento. This song is a flash of Nordic romance dedicated to the least romantic place in all of California, bridging the sonic gap between Shocking Blue (the lightly psych-rocking Who-ish intro and guitar sounds) and ABBA (…everything else about the song).
Moreover, this europop jam went to #1 in several(!) European countries, which makes me wonder if a whole generation of Germans, Norwegians, Netherlanders and Belgians have really weird ideas about CA’s extremely unremarkable capitol.
That’s all for this week! See you next Friday.